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20, 10, 0 - Larissa Pacheco's Numbers Game

"My master, João Bastos, believed in me and said if I can train hard I can be someone in the fighting world. I believed him, I dedicated myself, and now I'm here." - Larissa Pacheco

Imagine your 17-year-old self. You’re not a kid anymore, but since you’re on the verge of adulthood, a new world opens up where you can enjoy things you couldn’t before, and do so without the responsibility that comes with being the head of the household.

Larissa Pacheco can’t imagine a life like that. Maybe she could think about what it might be like to live a carefree teenage existence, but that ship sailed a long time ago, the moment her mother - her hero - became ill, prompting the Para native to pick up the responsibilities of an adult before most even think of doing such things.

“I had many difficulties,” Pacheco said through translator Fernanda Caldes. “It's very difficult for those who are 17 years old to have so much responsibility, and the part that scared me the most was when I found myself without money to pay the bills.”

Putting thoughts of college aside, Pacheco picked up work as an administrative assistant, but her main source of income was going to come from a unique line of work as a mixed martial artist.  

“My master, João Bastos, believed in me and said if I can train hard I can be someone in the fighting world,” she said. “I believed him, I dedicated myself, and now I'm here.”

“Here” is the UFC, where Pacheco will make her Octagon debut on Saturday in Brasilia against Jessica Andrade. Beating the veteran Andrade will be a tall order for Pacheco, who, at 20, is now the youngest fighter on the current roster, but if 10 wins, no losses, and 10 finishes will give you anything, it’s confidence.

“Jessica is very strong, but I’m training to stop her game.”

It’s a remarkable story, not just because of her record and struggles it took to get here at such a young age, but due to the fact that for a 20-year-old, she holds things together remarkably well, seemingly unaffected by the attention that will undoubtedly grow in the coming days, weeks, and beyond.

“I try to be as professional as possible,” she said. “I use concentration, focus, and patience and every day I learn more.”

These days, things are a lot different for Pacheco than they were three years ago. Most importantly, her mom is her biggest fan and doing better physically, a relief to Pacheco. “Now she’s making progress with her treatment and I’m doing everything to improve it,” she said.

Professionally it’s a new world as well, as the versatile and exciting finisher is able to compete in the UFC, and even back home, the acceptance of women’s MMA has produced several standouts that have made their way to the Octagon, including Andrade, Amanda Nunes, Bethe Correia, Juliana Lima, and Claudia Gadelha.

“Brazil has big warriors and well-trained athletes, and the Brazilian women are showing that they are capable and they are being recognized,” Pacheco said.

Now it’s time for Larissa Pacheco’s close-up, and she can’t wait.
“I'm very happy for all that is happening,” she said. “I struggled a lot to reach the UFC and see the recognition of my work, but they (the fans) will get to see the best of me. I trained a lot and I'm not underestimating anyone, but I'll put everything I learned into practice.”

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